Datadots: advanced microscopic anti-theft identification

Theft is a fact of life, but these tiny dots can significantly reduce the risk of your property being stolen – and boost your chances of recovering it if it is
Issue date 31 August 2007

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Theft is a fact of life, but these tiny dots can significantly reduce the risk of your property being stolen – and boost your chances of recovering it if it is. Little larger than a grain of sand, Datadot microdots give a positive and permanent identity to cars, personal property and other assets. What are they? Datadots are microscopic discs, about the size of a grain of sand, each laser-etched with multiple lines of code. The code is unique to each batch of microdots. The content of each container is a unique batch, identified by a code on the lid. The code is registered against the name of the buyer and stored on the South African verification database. Where applicable, the Datadots simply carry the “primary identifier” issued by the manufacturer of the asset. Microdots were originally developed by the US military in the 1940s to covertly tag or identify items. It soon became obvious the tiny plastic discs would be useful for espionage, being very easy to conceal and transport.

But it was only in the early 1990s, with the advent of laser etching, that microdots became commercially feasible. A engineer developed a low-cost process that inscribed information onto thousands of microdots in a short period of time. The first microdot application was in the casino industry. Thousands of fake casino chips are manufactured and used in casinos worldwide, but in 1995 authentic chips were permanently marked with microdots, identifying which chips were fakes. How do they work? S imple. Professional thieves don’t like to steal identifiable property. It’s risky and, worse, difficult to sell on for a decent profit. Take a car for example. Normally, the manufacturer stamps a VIN onto two or three areas of the vehicle, but professional thieves can remove or change this in minutes. With Datadots thousands of dots, each with the vehicle’s code number, are applied to all the key areas of the car. It’s impossible to remove all of them, and even if the car is broken up for parts no second-hand dealer will touch them if they’re stolen!

How are they applied? E mbedded in a clear colourless epoxy, Datadots are simply brushed or sprayed onto suitable parts of the asset to be marked, and stay there for the asset’s lifetime. For example, they can be used on the housing, power supply, motherboard, keyboard, mouse and other components of a computer. larger assets, such as motor vehicles, the Datadots in the epoxy medium can be sprayed on in the assembly line. They can also be applied at the importation facility, or as an aftermarket service by dealers. Datadots have many applications, from marking home or business assets to specialised applications in the agricultural, construction and forestry industries. They are used in 21 countries. The system uses laser etching The epoxy medium can only be detected under UV light, and the laser-etched code on the dots is read with a simple magnifying device – no complicated forensic investigation is needed. A scanner linked to the USB port of a computer, which makes mass reading quick and foolproof, is also available. – Chris Nel Contact Auriel Mitchley on (011) 889 0796 or e-mail [email protected]. |fw

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